The metaphors “making political hay” and “watching Walker County’s purse strings” were recently chosen by Messenger reporter Mike O'Neal in his March 14 news analysis. Ironically, these metaphors perfectly describe what we see happening in Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell's decision-making process with Hutcheson Medical Center, Walker County’s mounting debt, the Rock Creek Durham Trail project and its EPD fines, and many other questionable projects and spending habits. We also can apply the metaphors in the lack of unity within the Republican Party and with those who oppose the commissioner’s habit to believe she can borrow her way out of debt. All of these situations add to the hay pile of contentious issues within Walker County, Georgia. The common straw within the pile is questionable leadership.
No political solution to a business dilemma
Representative Steve Tarvin (House District 2) recently refused to give an open-ended blank check to the county and didn’t introduce legislation for a Walker County Public Facilities Authority.
Representative Tarvin offered Sole Commissioner Heiskell an alternative to the legislation she wanted, suggesting the restructure of the Regions Bank debt by legislation to sell bonds specifically for the past due Hutcheson Hospital debt or by putting the issue in a referendum vote for the people to decide. His offer was not accepted by the commissioner. His conservative decision backed by large numbers of his constituents stymied the hiding of debts in an authority which would not be accountable to taxpayers, much like the Walker County Development Authority and the Walker County Water and Sewer Authority. Tarvin’s refusal prompted the county commissioner to choose, once again, to borrow money to pay back loans and also added over $5 million extra to the debt for “undetermined projects.” I question why she thinks that will solve the problem. Was that a business decision or a political one?
No one wants the employees of Hutcheson Hospital to lose their jobs. However, it appears there will continue to be a lack of sound business decisions with the taxpayers’ dollars. Funds are still being funneled into the failing hospital without hospital leadership making necessary changes to stop the loss of money each month. The citizens have obviously made their decision about the fate of Hutcheson and the decision is being ignored for political reasons. The community’s exodus is made clear daily when citizens bypass the hospital and go to other facilities for medical care. Just as one can’t fill a fuel tank that has a gaping hole in the bottom, Hutcheson Hospital won’t recover and be a full vibrant hospital until the “leaks” are repaired. To continue to ignore that fact is a questionable business decision and not a solution to the problem.
For anyone to assume the Walker County GOP would take action regarding a Public Facilities Authority at its recent March 14 convention further insinuates the debt of Hutcheson Hospital is being viewed as a political decision instead of a business decision.
Republican Party divided
The Walker County Republican Convention on Saturday, March 14, mirrored the national political division of the Republican and Democrat parties. A faction within the Republican Party won a vote by 57-53 denying the citizens of Walker County the right to vote on a seemingly contentious issue. The "Form of Government Resolution" proposed by the party's Resolutions Committee asked one simple question. The resolution read:
“Whereas, according to the National Association of Counties, Georgia is the only state within the United States allowing sole commission a form of county government and
Whereas, of the 159 counties in Georgia, less than 10 counties have a sole commissioner as its form of county government
Whereas, there has been debate concerning the form of government for Walker County, Georgia
Whereas, the voters of Walker County Georgia have the freedom to have their voice heard on this issue
Let it be resolved, we the 2015 Walker County GOP Convention direct that following question be put for the voters of Walker County Georgia on a ballot.
Do you support changing form of county government from a sole commissioner?
Yes - For
No - Against
We also direct, that a copy of this resolution be transmitted to Senator Jeff Mullis, Representative Steve Tarvin, and Representative John Deffenbaugh as well as the members of the Board of Elections of Walker County Georgia.”
I have been the administrator of the Our Walker County Facebook page for the last three years. I posted Saturday, March 14, in response to members' disappointment and also debate about wording of the resolution, “After Resolutions Chairman Mike Cameron read the sole commissioner resolution twice, Doug Grammer asked for discussion on the motion, paused, no one said anything, so Grammer directed the ballots be distributed. No one discussed or debated the resolution. As Convention Parliamentarian, Doug and I had already discussed the format for a debate (alternating opposite sides of the issue, no one speaking twice on the subject until all had spoken, addressing all debate toward the chair and not the audience, etc. - following Robert's Rules of Order), but no discussion or questions happened. Why? I believe it was because the resolution was well-written and simple, asking for a constitutional right to vote. How could anyone debate against that constitutional right?”
Grammer and I discussed the resolution’s defeat the week after the convention. We agree, the wording of the fourth “Whereas” paragraph probably should have been:
“Whereas, as Americans, we embrace the concepts of free speech; government by consent of the governed; government of, by, and for the people; and the right to vote in a democracy to decide our fates....” - something that people will read and say, "How could I vote against this?"
Facebook members are invited to visit and join the Our Walker County group to post, discuss, and promote events, businesses and issues within the county.
Commissioner vote petition delivered with 2,045 verified signatures
The fifty-seven people voting to suppress a vote on the sole commissioner issue used their right to vote to PROHIBIT the entire county the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. This 57-53 vote followed another important event about the request for a vote of the people. Representative John Deffenbaugh (House District 1), Representative Steve Tarvin (House District 2), and Senator Jeff Mullis received on March 4, 2015, printed copies of a petition from residents and property owners of Walker County. The petition started online on www.change.org by the LaFayette Underground, but signatures were also gained in the communities by volunteers. Of the more than 2,200 signatures, several were eliminated as duplicates or questionable. Remaining was 2,045 signatures. Why have we heard nothing from our elected officials in response to this petition? The voice of those 2,045 speaks loudly asking for a vote on the sole commissioner form of government in our county.
One can only hope the Republican Executive Committee elected by vote at the convention, our elected representatives and senator, or our elected county commissioner will have enough grit about them to stop suppressing our right to vote on this issue. Of what are they all afraid?
Insight to a bright future
We appear to be teetering on a tight rope across a chasm of political division in Walker County. Those who disagree with the current county commissioner are often labeled in the local media with remarks such as “it’s beating-Bebe time,” picking on the commissioner (Chattanooga Times Free Press, March 15) or “threatening her every day” (UCTV, March 11, video available on Our Walker County), but those remarks are misleading. I think we are all simply debating a demand for accountability and better decisions. Change is inevitable in Walker County. We live in a beautiful county with the potential to be a haven of peace for our families, businesses, and friends. I believe the first steps toward having our peaceful haven are to stop incurring debt and function within our means, changing our focus back to the basics. Then, we must eliminate wasteful spending, pay back the current debt, and improve the infrastructure. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible if we make a plan, implement it, and follow through. Is that a future on which we all can agree?